Fund helps boost technology-themed movies

It’s no longer your father’s biopic. If those receiving grants from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation have their way, personalities like Marie Curie and Thomas Edison will cease being dusty museum relics and become complex, living, breathing personalities with flaws just like the rest of us.

Created last year in collaboration with the Tribeca Film Institute, the Sloan Filmmaker Fund provides grants to U.S. and international filmmakers who spotlight scientific and technological themes in their projects.

“Historically, the portrayal of scientists, engineers and mathematicians is seen through a stereotypical lens,” Sloan Foundation program director Doron Weber says. “You usually get either the mad scientist or the bumbling nerd. We want to help filmmakers go down the (science/technology) road not feeling intimidated but instead free to go deep and find out what is (and was) really going on.”

To get last year’s five selected screenplays to multiplexes, it’s going to take a lot more than the $110,000 Sloan is providing, but it’s a start.

Those projects successfully separating fact from textbook myths include Alex Lyras and Michael Dorian’s “Alva,” which explores whether Edison was America’s greatest inventor or a clever thief with a knack for marketing, as well as Greg Harrison’s “The Radioactive Boy Scout,” about a 16-year-old who attempted to build the core of a nuclear reactor in his backyard. Scenes from both works will be read aloud by professional actors during the festival.

Tribeca will also include the announcement of this year’s recipients, who will collect up to $170,000.

While every penny counts, feature films about type A personalities cost much more than documentaries, which makes development that much more difficult.

But TFI chief exec Brian Newman says the decision to support feature films, as opposed to docs, was simple and strategic.

“These stories have the potential to have much more impact than your typical PBS documentary,” says Newman, “because narrative films have such a bigger reach.”

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